Saturday, August 29, 2015

YIKES! An Update for my Followers...

I suppose I should have updated this a long time ago.  You can find me blogging at The Literacy Booth: A Place for Wisconsin Coaches. I apologize, but I only have time to contribute to one blog! :)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Not So Ordinary Mentor Text

Summer always seems to get away from me.  I have been doing so much reading and planning to prepare for my new role as a Literacy/Instructional Coach that I let my blogging slip a little. (Insert the sound of me slapping my own hand here.)  It wasn't until I saw Kelly Gallagher again last week in Madison that I was reminded of this incomplete entry. What I am about to propose is a great way to start students off writing small pieces right from the beginning of the school year. Not to mention, an excellent opportunity to get to know your students and have them get to know you!

Every time I get the opportunity to listen to Kelly Gallagher, I come home with a whole new batch of ideas.  [Two things I love most in life--Kelly Gallagher (one of my many professional crushes) and a "whole new batch of ideas."] When I had the chance to hear him at WSRA last February, he had recommended some great titles to use as mentor texts to model writing with students.  One of the books, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal was particularly intriguing. It is a pseudo-memoir of her life--organized alphabetically by topic.  She also places some of her life tid-bits into charts, graphs, and even bubbles of random memories.  For the low, low, price of $.01, I was able to order a used copy from $3.99 for shipping and handling. Using sections of her book to model, I quickly learned that the results were anything but ordinary. However, I recommend reviewing the book and pulling out parts to use in advance as there are some that may be considered inappropriate for middle school students. Overall, though, the concept is a good one and can be used in both middle and high school.

After spending time with Mr. Gallagher, one begins to find she starts to read everything a little bit differently.  The fact that I am constantly finding sections of text that I want to use to emulate with my students can be quite distracting.  I just never read anything the same anymore.  I subscribe to People magazine and noticed a fun column usually found in the last pages of every issue.  It is entitled "One Last Thing" in which they ask a celebrity to answer the "last thing" about 5 topics. (The last thing I texted...The last time meal I cooked...etc.) I started collecting this page from every issue I receive.  We used the copies I had provided in class to compile a list together of topics as well as add some of our own! It became another model that I emulated and incorporated with the activities I used from the Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. My students then used this to practice writing about themselves in small anecdotes that qualify as narrative writing. 

I have included a Flickr slide show of some of the texts I used to model from, some of my own examples--which I completed right in front of my classes--and, of course, some student examples.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Classroom Libraries Create Readers

There is plenty of research available about the correlation between creating a classroom library and student reading improvement. (Be careful though, there is an art to creating an attractive and functional classroom library.)  My own "research" has also proven this to be true as I developed a classroom library of a little over 800 books and I was still in the process of adding to it before I took a new position.  Usually I don't limit how much I spend on books, (shhh....don't tell my husband) but recently I was forced to be a bit more frugal and play around with my Scholastic points and use those more sparingly. But let me tell you, a visit to Barnes in Noble always resorts in me having to hide what I spent in the checkbook. (I easily justify it by saying "Honey, it's for the kids!")

For those of you who are wondering, I arranged my classroom library by genre as the students usually flock to a particular bin to see what is new or what they hadn't read from my library yet.  I encouraged my kids to read as much as they could recreationally, yet still tried to guide them to other genres as well. I shared my struggles with trying to read historical fiction as well as my new found excitement for sports fiction and fantasy with the students. (At one point, I refused to read anything from those genres-bad Mrs. R!)  My passion for YA literature has seriously evolved over the years and I keep track of what I read with a Goodreads account.  There I can mark the books I want to read, what I am currently reading, write reviews, get recommendations and share this information with others. (I can easily make updates with an app I've installed both on my phone and on my Kindle.) It is important to surround students with books and I often rotated books on my front display.  Students would easily notice the books I placed there.  I even took the time to rotate books from my bins to the front that were popular or recommended by past students. This is picture from the front of my former classroom.

It becomes an interesting phenomenon as students begin to talk about the books they are reading.  When I encouraged one of my female reluctant readers to read the Hush, Hush series by Becca Fitzpatrick, her friends began fighting to read it as well.  Not only were they reading, but they began having discussions about the characters, what they liked and didn't like about the plot, and even about the writing itself.  I overheard a deep seventh grade conversation about the writing of Becca Ftizpatrick versus the writing of Stephenie Meyer--and I didn't have anything to do with starting it.  (Except for providing the books!)

Do I have a check out system? Yes. I use the old "card in the pocket" because that works for me.  Each book has an index card and I take the time on the first day of school to train the students in the process and we practice it together. I require them to write their name and the date on the card and place it in a card box on my front table. Books are also returned in a basket on that same table and not by the classroom library.  It helps me take notice of what they are reading.  (Keep in mind that students are often willing to help with the "check in/check out" system.)

The fact of the matter is, if you, as a teacher, begin reading young adult literature, take the time to get to know what your students like, and then put the two together, it creates a simple equation that equals students who will read. I've always said, the only time it should be completely silent in my classroom is during Drop Everything And Read aka DEAR time. It was almost always silent.  Don't believe me? Watch this video of my students reading in my classroom! I just quietly pulled out my phone and started taking video of them one day.

And check out the same class on another day!

Yes, this can happen in your classroom too! :)

Here are a few helpful tips to get students reading at any age:

1. Purchase or find the money to purchase a variety of books from different genres including non-fiction topics written at a variety of levels to house in your classroom. Yes, one could argue that there already is a school library, but it kind of goes along with the theory of "If you build it, he will come."  If you have the books right in front of them, they will read! (Also, in a sad era in which Library Media Specialists are being cut or eliminated, teachers must take charge and add yet another thing to their already overflowing plates.) I mentioned the Scholastic book order points.  I would also often purchase from Goodwill or Savers (when it was still here).  Believe it or not students were also willing to donate their books to my library when they were finished reading books they purchased on their own.

2. Model yourself as a reader.  You need to read and share your excitement and struggles with reading.  It doesn't matter what it is. The students will notice and ask you about it.

3. Do Book Talks! Lots of them! Also, let them know when you have added new books to your collection.  Even if you haven't read them yet.  Share the title, the author, read the back and offer the chance to preview. (Steven Layne shares his process for teaching students how to preview books in Igniting a Passion for Reading.)

4. Allow CHOICE. Let the students pick what they want to read. Do not limit them to lexile range or to how many "points" it is.  (This is the quickest way to turn student off to reading.) At times, students will need a little guidance or a nudge.  Some like fiction, some like non-fiction.  It doesn't matter.  Just let them read what they want to read and always allow the option to abandon a book. I certainly don't force myself to continue to read a book I am not enjoying. Do you?

5. Provide the time for the students to read.  If you do it at school, they will (sometimes--fingers crossed) do it at home. (And they will if they are deeply into a particular book.) My argument was I can only control what happens in my classroom.  If I can provide 10- 15 minutes of uninterrupted reading time, I am guaranteeing that kids are reading.  The only way to become a better reader is to READ! (I also reminded them of this repeatedly!)

Furthermore, be realistic. Expect and accept that some books from your classroom library will get lost or stolen.  It happens.  I really emphasize the importance of sharing. They are for ALL OF US!  I purchased them myself and they are not the school's books.  Sometimes students need a little re-training and a few reminders on how to treat the classroom library.  They also knew that if they treated it well, I continued to add to it!

Friday, June 29, 2012


I know it has been awhile, but I've been busy. In between several meetings and a week long conference, I had to pack up 13 years worth of teaching materials---including a huge classroom library. It is so weird to even type these words, but I am leaving Maplewood Middle School. I took a position as the Menasha High School Literacy Coach. Same district: new office, new principal, new staff. However, I won't be leaving Maplewood completely as part of my job is to help bridge the two schools. The best part is I still get to work with Barb Novak, the current Literacy Coach at Maplewood! Love her!

Now that I have had to condense a classroom and decide what to bring to my new 8 ft by 12 ft office, my home office is overflowing with young adult literature. I left some books behind for my former colleagues but I have a plethora of great books that could be used at the high school and am donating most of them to English teachers who expressed interest. I would rather my former students have the opportunity to read them than sell them at a garage sale or even to Half-Price Books.

So now that my belongings are moved from one school to the other, the new furniture has been chosen and picked up by our wonderful district maintenance staff and is resting peacefully outside of my new office--which is waiting to be painted and re-carpeted., I have another list to tackle. My summer reading list. It has taken a different spin.

My summer reading list:

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck (Just finished!)

Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction by Jim Knight

Unmistakable Impact: A Partnership Approach for Dramatically Improving Instruction by Jim Knight (Amazon says it is arriving today. Note that this title says "Dramatically Improving Instruction" and the first one by Knight just says "Improving Instruction.")

Coaching Conversations: Transforming Your School One Conversation at a Time by  Linda Cheliotes and Marcela Reilly.

Developing Readers in the Academic Disciplines by Doug Buehl (I started this one back in March or April and the book binding fell apart, IRA sent me a new copy and I just haven't gotten back into it yet.)

Text Complexity: Raising Rigor in Reading By Doug Fisher, Nancy Frey and Diane Lapp (I also started this one but haven't been focused enough to finish it.)

I am both overwhelmed and excited--and not just because of my reading list!  This blog may end up taking a tiny spin in a different direction, but I do have several blog posts that I had been working on with activities and ideas that I planned to develop and will still share.  Rest assured that through this blog I will continue to share the lessons, the struggles, and the learning that develops from this new endeavor!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Share This! Connections, Myths, and Other Randomness from my Basement.

Sometimes I am not very quick when it comes to making connections.  When I began my obsession with Twitter a few months ago, I started following @ProfessorNana also known as the "YA Goddess."  Not long after, my school Literacy Coach told me I should check out a "really great blog" full of book reviews and recommendations by a woman named Teri S. Lesesne.  Imagine my surprise when I put two and two together and realized I was already following her and reading her blog. Teri S. Lesesne IS @ProfessorNana.

Anyway, a few years ago, I borrowed a really good book from a former colleague entitled Naked Reading: Uncovering What Tweens Need to Become Lifelong Readers (Stenhouse Publishers, 2006).  The reason I bring this up is because I was cleaning my basement. (I have since halted that task so I could distract myself with THIS one.) Due to my phenomenal organizational skills, the book had somehow fallen into a random bin--and I swore I had returned this book to that former colleague. (Sorry, Heather.)  Guess who the author is? Teri S. Lesesne.

Flipping through the book, I noticed I had a few pages tabbed.  (It's what I do.) On one tab I had written "Share This!" Unfortunately, I didn't note who to share it with and since I certainly like to encourage myself to follow my own directions--I figured it was imperative that I take the time out from cleaning the basement and share it with YOU.

Exploding Some Myths About Reading 

Myth #1 Kids must read only "good" books and not be allowed to wallow in popular fiction. She adds that another myth often follows this one and that is: "It is not quantity but quality that matters in reading.  How much we read does matter."

Myth #2 Readers are easy to spot; they always have their noses in books.

Myth #3 Readability (reading levels, lexiles, etc.) is a good way to match books to kids.

Myth #4 Canned reading programs can create readers.

Myth #5 Once kids are independent readers, reading aloud and shared and paired reading should become activities and strategies of the past.

Myth #6 Kids can automatically distinguish between good and bad literature.

Myth #7 Reading is a science that can be broken down into component parts easily for quick consumption.  (Blogger's Note:  Once upon a time we actually tried to do this as an English department.  I am so ashamed, but in our defense we didn't know any better at the time.)

Myth #8 Reading is the same no matter what we are reading or why. So wrong it it almost laughable.

Myth #9 Having grade level lists is a good idea.

Myth #10 One size fits all, and the corollary: one book is good for all kids.(p. 3-5)

She adds the word "WRONG!" behind each of these myths and explains why they are indeed so.  It's worth the read and I say this because I have several more tabs and nuggets from the book I deemed as important.  However, I need to promptly review the tabs of my thoughts so I can return the book to its original owner.

Fact:  Sometimes cleaning your basement can lead to something completely random and cause you to make strange connections. However, it can also lead to a blog post that forces you to avoid cleaning the rest of it altogether!

By the way, you can find the link to Teri Lesesne's blog here.

Naked Reading

More information about her book can be found here.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday Fun

The fact that it is a Friday is usually enough to make me smile.  The weekend gives me time to decompress and re-energize myself for the learning that will take place the following week.  However, today one of my colleagues posted a video on Facebook that made me smile even wider.  It was made a few years ago but I've never seen it until now.  I LOVE IT!

I hope it makes you smile too!

It turns out that Dowell Middle School recently published a new video.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


This year our district implemented a one-to-one technology initiative with our seventh grade students.  Every seventh grader has his or her own HP net book.  Although it was quite a learning process and we continue to experience some growing pains, it has been an overall positive experience not only for the students, but also for me as an educator. I love new knowledge and learning!

When it comes to technology, I probably know more than the average person as I enjoy tinkering with tools, sites, and apps. I'd assess myself as proficient, not advanced. (But I know WAY more than my beloved husband who doesn’t understand the concept of a Google.doc and cannot even begin to appreciate my fascination and deep love for Twitter. Sorry, Honey. It's true.)  In order to become more adept, you have to be willing to take the time to play, to think and to learn.  As educators, this is what we SHOULD be modeling anyway, right? I finally was able to take the time (strongly encouraged?) to devote myself to the activities I have always wanted to pursue, but put off for one reason or another.  As a result of some uncharacteristic gumption, I now have a blog, a twitter account, and a few Wikispaces.  (Shameless plug:  Check out our school Literacy Team Wiki here but please keep in mind that it is still under construction!) I use Edmodo, Goodreads, and Evernote daily. I have even figured out how to take screenshots and post a powerpoint on my blog as well as put together video on YouTube and photos to music on Animoto, Picasa, and Flickr. (Yay Me!) As our district library media specialist stated the other morning: “We’ve created a monster.”  

Recently, I attempted to put together what some would refer to as a “digital kit.”  I used a Google Presentation to design the kit and then shared it with the students.  Think of it as a text set but without all the paper or container! (If you don’t know what a text set is... sigh...well, we will have to talk later. Or you could check out this informational handout I found on text sets.) I collected several articles, portions of texts written at different levels--which I converted to pdf files, links to websites, video clips, and photos on the topic which happens to be fast food. The students use this kit to extract information and then synthesize it for an argumentative product they are currently working on.  (In addition, I am reading portions of a book Chew on This by Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson aloud to provide additional background information.) There is a lot of modeling and guidance provided by me as we all go through this process together.

A digital kit can be used in several ways and modified for different purposes.  My first attempt is a test run and I have been making modifications to it as the students and I use it.  This format can certainly be incorporated into any content area. One could also include instructional modifications to scaffold directions and prompts and to aid in processing the information. This is very helpful for those who struggle or need more guidance. 

Because this is the first time I am trying this digitally,  I chose the topic and am guiding the argument. (Normally, I would allow the students choice and plan to do so in the future.) Eventually, I would like to use this same format to allow students to put together their own digital kits and create their own compelling question or argument. (Now that I have gone through the process and have one of my own to use as a model.) I think it would be interesting to have the students add their own videos or use that as an option for a final product, but I'm still working that out in my head.  As always, it is a process and I continue to tinker, think, learn, and grow--increasing my knowledge. I embrace technology! Bring it on!

(I would share my digital kit with you, but I have to take some time to play around with and figure out which app or tool will best allow me to do so! There also may be some copyright issues. I will have to look into that. Please be patient and stay tuned.)